Who'd like a portable text game console?


BBG co-editor John Brownlee wants someone to make a simple, cheap handheld roguelike in a similar vein to the dedicated Tiger portable games of yore...

Some sort of UMPC or handheld console solution dedicated to one single purpose: Playing ASCII rogue-likes on the go. Everything has to be designed so you can play Dwarf Fortress or Nethack with the minimum amount of bullshit.

The thought experiment it implies is "what might a portable, text-only game console be like?"

At the low end, the cheap hardware used for $30 translators and dictionaries could handle such staples as interactive fiction and basic roguelikes: CalcRogue, by Jim Babcock, looks ready made for action in something one might impulse-buy at Target.

At the high end, a more capable machine might meet the likes of Dwarf Fortress' stiff system requirements, and open up the possibilities to the world's vast back catalog of ASCII-style titles.

Our mockups here are, respectively, an iRiver Discple (above), a $200 monster-translator that could be fitted out with an x86 CPU, a stripped-down linux and bucketloads of text-only games on tap; and an ultra-cheap Franklin Spanish dictionary (below), depicted as running only a baked-in CalcRogue.


The closest Tiger itself got to a Roguelike is, presumably, its version of Gauntlet. It's Wheel of Fortune has a QWERTY keyboard. Of course, the LCD displays in these are far too primitive for a proper implementation; they merely show that the foothills of this mountain have been danced upon.

Published by Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.

Join the Conversation


  1. I can’t beleive there’s not a decent port of Nethack or the Inform parser (zork etc) for the blackberry. The blackberry would have wonky terminal settings, but otherwise I think it’d be a pretty ideal platform.

    I found an inform parser for the BB but it required loading nearly a gig of various developer platforms, compiling several packages in order to integrate a single game into an executable, and then finally ending up with a program that would spit out the opening screen and puke upon the entry of a command.

    There’s got to be more than enough horsepower to run a decent inform parser on a blackberry- I ran it on a first gen Palm Pilot 10 years ago. Nethack would probably be not that far off.

    That said, I’d probably enjoy a pocket text-based game platform, but not enough to carry yet another device.

  2. The first thing I wound up doing when jailbreaking my iPhone was installing iphonefrotz (http://code.google.com/p/iphonefrotz/) and sinking my copious commuter hours into playing/replaying text adventures. In addition to the slightly less legal options of loading up Infocom Classics, there are always plentiful, pleasing, alternatives in the ifarchive (http://ifarchive.org).

    In any case, my point being that any device designed to run nethack should also support frotz.

  3. I recently resurrected an ancient Palm IIIx (with folding keyboard, natch) for EXACTLY this purpose. It runs both a Frotz and a reasonable facsimile of Nethack.

  4. As mentioned above, Palm devices (including the PalmOS based Treo phones) have a few z-code interpreters available for playing Infocom games.

    There were some rogue-likes on palmOS as well, as I recall…

  5. Windows Mobile/CE users can enjoy NetHack with the official 3.4.3 release for PocketPCs.

    I’ve logged countless hours playing it on my aging HTC 8125. The 8125’s keyboard lends itself well to playing roguelikes, and the keyboard HUD allows for play using only the stylus.

    You can pick up an 8125 on eBay for ~$150 these days.

  6. Who’d like a portable text game console?

    Sounds to me like we want an inexpensive dedicated serial console in a UMPC form-factor (with keyboard).

    Frankly, I’d like to have an inexpensive serial console just to aid “jailbreaking” embedded Linux platforms such as the Amazon Kindle, or wireless routers, or Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. The fact that it could also double as a Rogue / NetHack / Cave Adventure gaming platform would be an added bonus.

  7. Make it solar powered and you got yourself a winner. I suppose a portable roguelike wouldnt need much power. Heck, i had a solar powered calculator myself.

  8. There is already a handheld with keyboard on the way, and gaming is the main focus:


    It’s being developed by people that were previously coding GP32 and GP2X applications, and is seen by many as a spiritual successor. It’s not out yet, but development models exist.

    Disclaimer: I don’t work with any of the Pandora developers, but I own a GP32 an GP2X, and have enjoyed playing nethack on them in one form or another.

  9. The Nokia N810 should work pretty well. I’m quite sure that there’s a Nethack-clone for it 😉

  10. Get yourself a Poqet PC. You can still find them out there, either used or NOS. It has MSDOS in ROM, so any rogue-like games with MSDOS versions should run. Want a single purpose device? Use AUTOEXEC.BAT to launch your fave game.

  11. I have Angband for my PSP…. Holding Triangle brings up a on screen keyboard.
    I’m just hoping a Dwarf Fort for PSP would come out sometime, then my homebrew collection would be complete.


  12. I’ll do it if the pay is right. Which it won’t be, because some of the suggestions above look rather good. Poor me … but one can dream 😉

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *